ORR students plan mental health walk in Marion

May 31, 2022

Emma Levasseur only had intentions to attend a Mental Health Walk, not to organize one. But when the closest event she could find was in New York, she had a thought.

“Why not just plan my own?” she said.

Levasseur, a graduating senior, reached out to Alia Cusolito, a rising junior, to help her with the idea.

“They’re better at organizing,” Levasseur said of Cusolito.

The students are planning more than just a walk around the block. They are organizing a larger conversation, and want to focus on ongoing awareness and education more than moving their feet.

“So many people are really struggling with mental health,” said Cusolito. “Recently we lost a member of our community. She was a childhood best friend of mine. When something like that happens, people talk about mental health for a little while, but then it gets forgotten about and no one does anything to change anything. This is about ongoing action and ongoing conversation.”

Levasseur and Cusolito, who are both from Rochester, reached out to Marion’s Town Administrator Jay McGrail about using the bandstand at the Marion Music Hall and surrounding area. The Select Board also enthusiastically signed off on the plan.

The walk will be a circle around the center of the town starting and ending at the bandstand. When the walk is completed, the organizers will host performances, poetry readings, and tables from local organizations with resources to support mental health.

Cusolito mentioned that Marion Police Chief Richard Nighelli has been a huge supporter of their event. They said that Nighelli was “really interested” in the event and helped contact local organizations for them.

Levasseur says that the educational piece of the event is the most important to her, because it means more to give people knowledge and information rather than to just talk about it.

“A community event like this is about raising awareness and getting education and resources out to people so they know how they can get help and they can see how they can help themselves. It also helps people understand what others are experiencing,” said Cusolito.

Levasseur and Cusolito are part of a new organization at ORR, The Mental Health Club.

Levasseur said that a lot of people struggle with mental health, but they often can feel like they’re going through it alone.

“Our generation has been talking about [mental health] more and I like that,” said Levasseur.

The club meets regularly to just do comforting activities, like coloring pages, and “group circles,” where they sit together as a group for open dialogue and pass around the “talking turtle,” a stuffed turtle that Ochoa brought back from a trip to Honduras that she uses to facilitate conversation.

“[The club] is just a safe space to talk about how you’re doing. There’s not a lot of that at school. It’s a lot of holding your stress in and that can be very isolating,” said Cusolito. “It’s nice to have a place where we recognize we’re struggling, but we can all support each other.”

The Walk for Mental Health will take place at Marion’s Music Hall bandstand at 164 Front St on Saturday June 11, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. It will include live music, poetry readings, tabling, food, and arts and crafts. There will also be an art auction, where all proceeds will go to benefit mental health organizations.

They will also be taking donations to go to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the Trevor Project, and the Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective.

Those interested in tabling, performing, or donating artwork can reach out to orrbringchangetomind@gmail.com or message their Instagram, @orrhsbringchange2mind.